As we did not have any introductory postings to Linda
Tressel (I was away on a summer holiday part of the time), I've
put in place of the usual "Introduction" to a group read on my site,
excerpts from Trollope on the Net. First just the passage
from Chapter 4 of my book on Linda Tressel (1); I follow this
with the long section in Chapter 4 on Trollope's art of the novella
(2), where the analysis of Linda Tressel appears.
In Linda Tressel (singled out by Henry James in a
passionate and moving essay, and praised by Hutton as more powerful and
important than Nina Balatka), Linda Tressel longs to become
the wife of a sexually alluring and rebellious young man, Ludovic
Valcarm. Trollope shows us how through the rhetoric of sacred
religious prohibitions Linda's Aunt Staubach disguises from herself her
desire to control her niece permanently and her hatred and fear of
sexual pleasure. The aunt tries to force Linda to marry Peter
Steinmarc, an old man whom the aunt herself rejected. For Steinmarc's
ungainly body and narrow mind Linda feels nothing but distaste; when
she rejects him, and he threatens her with hints of how he will be able
to punish after marriage, she feels horror (Linda Tressel, pp.
269-71). The aunt repeatedly calls Linda a castaway, a reprobate, a
light of love and a harlot; she is also
cunning enough to catch and reinterpret every action of the girl as
evil, and is capable of relentlessly, ceaselessly harassing her (pp.
249, 254, 263, 270, 278, 295, 297, 308, 320, 332). Linda does not know
how to articulate and no one in the story appears to comprehend the
terrible intimate sacrifice a marriage to Peter Steinmarc requires.
Linda is defenceless. She is made to loathe herself; she cannot 'live
without a word of sympathy from any human being' (p. 270). At the
close of the novel, devastated, exhausted, Linda dies. This story can
still awe a reader as the religious attitudes towards sex the aunt
voices and the ability of human beings to disguise their worst and
self-interested motives from themselves are by no means gone from us
There are many statements in Trollope's Autobiography which tell us that he wrote his short novels in a spirit and with aims different from his long ones. The familiar statements are those written to explain why he thinks a well-known or very long novel is good or altogether bad. In praising his The Last Chronicle of Barsetshire Trollope tells us he achieved a simulacrum of English life over the course of many events and brought to life believable types, and he succeeded in delineating accurately and delicately the inner workings of Rev. Crawley's mind as Crawley interacted with other characters. In his two Phineas books he is proud of having dealt adequately with complex social issues relating to marriage through 'a considerable interval of time and in different forms'. He is proud to have expressed adequately a complicated criticism of how political idealism is (in his view) wrongly understood, and how the political process can occasionally work to improve people's lives. Trollope does not talk about his short novels in this way at all. He never speaks of portraits of complex psychologies developing over time in the context of a persuasive depiction of English society. Instead we are told of a landscape, opposing ideas, a style, satiric aims or of romance and pathos. He conceived The Warden while walking 'on a midsummer evening round the purlieus' of Salisbury Cathedral; his aim was 'to expose, or rather to describe' two opposing evils: 'the possession by the Church of certain funds and endowments which had been allowed to become incomes for idle Church dignitaries'; and 'the undeserved severity of the newspapers towards the recipients of such incomes, who could hardly be considered to be the chief sinners in the matter'. For The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson he 'attempted a style . . . meant to be funny'; he filled the book with slang and intended it 'as a satire on the ways of trade'. For Nina Balatka, Linda Tressel, The Golden Lion of Granpère, and Sir Harry Hotspur, which, like The Struggles he wanted to publish anonymously, he writes that he endeavoured to 'obtain a second identity' and:
to change not only my manner of language, but my manner of story-telling also; and in this, pace Mr Hutton, I think that I was successful. English life in them there was none. There was more of romance proper than had been usual with me. And I made an attempt at local colouring, at descriptions of scenes and places, which has not been usual with me . . . In the loves, and fears, and hatreds, of both Nina and Linda, there is much that is pathetic . . . [The Golden Lion and Sir Harry Hotspur too had for their] object the telling of some pathetic incident in life rather than the portraiture of a number of living human beings.
As Trollope wrote his Autobiography from October of 1875 to 30 April 1876, and only slightly revised it in 1879, this book does not contain anything about the content or art of the short novels written after Sir Harry Hotspur. For these we have only Trollope's chance comments in response to reviewers or to publishers and friends. These comments connect the forms, moods and aims of later with those of the earlier short novels. As we have seen, Trollope was reluctant to publish An Eye for an Eye, but, after Edward Chapman 'did very well with it', he cites it to John Blackwood as an argument for publishing Dr Wortle's School in the same format as 'Nina & Linda', using language which suggests he would have preferred to publish Dr Wortle anonymously, but concedes the use of his name as a selling point. Although sold as a Christmas story, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil must retain its subtitle A Tale of Australian Bushlife, for it is meant to evoke this strange place; and its hero, Harry Heathcote 'is my boy Frederic, -- or very much the same'. A more apposite title for Cousin Henry is 'Getting at a Secret', but Trollope's wife, Rose said 'it sounds like claptrap'; 'Uncle Indefer's Will' is as appropriate as Cousin Henry. Although Trollope often balks at censoring or bowdlerising a text, he agrees with William Isbister: in Kept in the Dark 'the expressions shall be softened' (italics Trollope's). Finally, when a friend said to Trollope that in The Fixed Period, Trollope must have meant its scheme to kill all people who reached the age of sixty-eight as a joke, Trollope replied that he meant the book seriously: 'It's all true -- I mean every word of it'.
For most of his short novels, Trollope begins with a landscape or constructs his book around a single situation or issue. He wrote them to excite pity and sadness and to play upon deep-seated impulses and emotions in his characters' and readers' minds (love, fear, hatred, death and pity). He described and exposed or satirised viewpoints or ways people behave which always have unfortunate consequences or are unfair to someone (for example, the customs connected to inheritance). He availed himself of an ironic or romantic manner of language (style) and storytelling or faraway landscape. His goal in this form was to lure us into a world filled with strong emotions, one in which ideas are set forth in unusually lucid ways through an attractive landscape and specially-devised style or through 'romance proper'.
This last phrase may puzzle some readers familiar with Trollope's longer books and comments about romance in them. Was not Trollope anti-romantic in his basic attitudes towards life? The phrase 'romance proper' does not refers to attitudes toward life; it refers to a genre Trollope admired and whose characteristics he used in his shorter fiction. In an essay Trollope wrote on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, he calls the book a romance and praises the same elements in it that he says are central to his short novels. These are picturesque, faraway and absorbing landscapes; a presentation of fundamental emotions like love, hatred, jealousy and revenge; and an examination of the 'inmost depths of the human heart' in terms of some specific set of ideas (in the case of The Scarlet Letter puritanical religion). Trollope rates Hawthorne's novel highly because it contains all the above elements to a superlative degree and blends them together in a mood of melancholy and 'unutterable woe' which charms us because its intensity lifts us beyond the realm of ordinary life into a realm of sublimity. The sceptical Trollope suggests that Hawthorne flatters us, yet Trollope's admiration for a genre that enables Hawthorne to present adultery, inward torture, the world's infamy, absolute renunciation and solitude, and yet make us laugh sardonically, is strong.15 When John Halperin studies Trollope's Sir Harry Hotspur and Henry James's Washington Square to see if Trollope's short novel could have been a source for James's, only to discover James did not rework the earlier story, Halperin has asked the wrong question. Both books are romances. We should not try to understand Nina Balatka using the criteria for judgement we use for The Small House of Allington; Nina Balatka should be understand and evaluated in terms of the criteria we use for Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor.
Trollope's desire for anonymity when writing his short novels has been thought anomalous. Why should a man who said he wrote for money not use his hard-won name? The creation of a second identity for himself, or his narrator, was important to Trollope from the point of view of the effects he was trying to achieve and the kinds of subject matter he presents. David Skilton has shown that by the 1860s Trollope was identified as the writer of the Barsetshire books. Although Trollope had written books whose moods and characters were quite different from those of the Barsetshire series (the Irish novels, The Bertrams, The Three Clerks, Orley Farm, The Claverings), what was thought characteristic of him, because it was what had sold and had been read most widely, was Framley Parsonage; and, whether correct or not, Margaret Oliphant's comment that Trollope was a novelist who kept to 'safe regions' captures what was -- and in some circles still is -- the common view. Trollope may have been the despot of the circulating libraries; nonetheless, the expectations of the readers who used these libraries straitjacketed him.
Some scholars have argued that Trollope's comment that he wanted to see 'whether as I had made on mark by such literary ability as I possessed, I might succeed in doing so again' is sufficient explanation for his attempt to publish his short novels anonymously. They explain his behaviour by arguing he had a somewhat unusual need to continue to prove himself to himself or feared he was overcrowding his market and would make less money on the books as his price would fall. This latter reasoning doesn't make much sense as books issued anonymously cannot hope to make much money in the first place, especially if they are written in an unrecognisable style. In addition, such explanations do not cover Trollope's attempt to publish The Struggles of Brown, Jones, and Robinson anonymously, well before his name was recognisable and when he was not making sufficient money to justify the strain of keeping up two separate occupations. They do not take into account Trollope's attempts late in his career once again to persuade publishers to print his short novels anonymously. By this time sales of his books were falling off, and he was having trouble placing them (partly because most of them were very unlike Framley Parsonage). Trollope says he had succeeded changing his 'manner of language and story-telling pace Hutton', he means he had succeeded in inventing a second identity so he could use another style and kind of story.
Trollope wanted a second identity because the realm of the pathetic and romantic explores those strong states of mind and motives that actuate people which they normally try to subdue and repress or at least hide from themselves and others. In Kept in the Dark, when Sir Frances Geraldine boasts of his ability to revenge himself on Cecilia Holt for jilting him, and his friend Dick presents the world's arguments against such 'evil' behaviour, Sir Francis turns round to analyse the reluctance of others to be cruel in turn as the result of sloth, moral hypocrisy and most of all cowardice (Kept in the Dark, pp. 91-93, 149-56, 166-71). Trollope is breaking through the repressions of conventional morality and giving us an inner melodrama which shows people satisfying impulses they usually deny they have in the first place. In Dr Wortle's School Trollope shows how a community of individuals are led to treat an unmarried man and woman living together as pariahs, some out of spite or a desire for revenge against Dr Wortle who had given the man a position in his school, others out of cowardice and an instinct for self-preservation. Trollope is examining group morality which turns on people who rebel against rules others have obeyed; people fear defending the rebel lest everyone else begin to retreat from them or attack them too. Early in Dr Wortle's School, Trollope makes a point of saying Mr and Mrs Peacocke are 'not man and wife'; if you don't like it, 'put the book down' (p. 28). Trollope begins The Golden Lion of Granpère by warning us that he is taking us into the simple world of French peasants in the rural countryside of eastern France:
If the reader be one who cannot take such a journey, and pass a month or two without the society of persons whom he would define as ladies and gentlemen, he had better be warned at once, and move on, not setting a foot within the Lion d'Or'. (The Golden Lion, p. 6)
This is a story in which we witness an Oedipal struggle for emotional and physical control of a highly attractive girl between the man who is her adopted father and his son who is her lover; the struggle is shown to be a norm of human behaviour.
In two of his short novels Trollope exposes and describes lies and corrupt behaviour in the entrenched and respectable establishments of church and business which were supporting many of his readers or their friends or relatives. Not until late in life did Trollope reveal that, in The Warden, his story of Hiram's Hospital was based on the analogous incident in the Hospital of St Cross. In The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson he did offend his readers, forcing them to see a funhouse representation of the lower-middle class shopkeepers' milieu where the inhabitants' craving for money and luxury and commmonplace pretentious fraud in business practices and advertising are not disguised, but crassly boasted about.
Trollope says he wanted to change his manner of language and story- telling; this allowed him to attempt a different voice. The tone and arrangement of the sentences in a number of Trollope's short novels (Nina Balatka, Linda Tressel, The Golden Lion, Sir Harry Hotspur, Harry Heathcote) is oracular, repetitive and simplified. At moments we feel we are in a fairy tale or realm of folklore. In others he turns to Swiftian irony, savage, and outrageous; as narrator, he offers trains of reasoning which seem insane because they are skeins of obvious lies or because their conclusions are inhumane or deadly. The joke is what is going through the mind of Trollope's narrator is commonplace; he's only more explicit and wholly unashamed of his thoughts than is usual with people (The Struggles, The Fixed Period).
In such books it is clearly important for Trollope to create a language which will lure readers into considering states of mind and points of view not commonly admitted to or tabooed as subjects of discussion. Readers who do not or cannot enter into such realms will not understand these short novels. The reader must be led to sympathise with decisions they are usually taught not to admire, with behaviour that from experience they know makes people less safe from other people. The reader must be led to condemn as cruel and destructive precepts they are usually taught to admire as prudent. Trollope aims to criticise intolerant and repressive religion (Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel), possessive sexual and familial tyranny (The Golden Lion and Kept in the Dark) and the corruption among idle young male aristocrats who are tolerated because they are male heirs (Sir Harry Hotspur). We must identify with intense projections of primary emotions which have been blown out of normal proportions by repression, fear and shame. A. O. J. Cockshut describes critics who dismiss or are embarrassed by these books, and label them unreal, as behaving as if the book were on trial before a jury of detached citizens. The critic says to a central character in them, 'I put it to you, Mr Western [or Mr Trevelyan] was not this a very odd way to behave? It is like asking Macbeth why he did not wait quietly for the witches' prophecy to be fulfilled . . . ' Or asking Othello why he got so excited over a handkerchief. Or Mr Neverbend how he could possibly expect people to go off happily to do nothing and die (The Fixed Period).
Several of Trollope's novellas are studies of a mind strained or sliding into periods of near insanity, of an individual cut off from other people who sympathise with them. All but the two satires (The Struggles and The Fixed Period) and Australian story (Harry Heathcote) centre on a situation in which central characters are hurt and afraid of characters they love, depend upon or have learned to trust, and who punish them psychologically. To resolve the situation these characters have to make a decision, and are paralysed by dread of the consequences of whatever they choose to do. Often the protagonist in the situation is afraid to be shamed in public before someone else they respect or who has power over them; we are made to feel an intense shame for them because they are afraid. This fear of humiliation and degradation prevades Cousin Henry and Kept in the Dark. Contemporary reviewers wrote that the former was a 'hazardous experiment' because Trollope depicts a hero many readers will find 'despicable', someone who cowers other people, who then withdraw from him or treat him with open contempt. Henry Jones is the naturally diffident victim whom the strong move to bully because they can do so. The novel is Kafkaesque.
As with He Knew He Was Right, most of the critics people who have written about Kept in the Dark talk about the conflict as if it were merely about a husband's demand for obedience and a wife's proud unwillingness to submit to him; they ignore the source of the couple's neurosis. George Western fears that his wife Cecilia (née Holt) has been sexually unchaste since marriage because she has not told Western she was engaged to Sir Francis Geraldine before she met Western. Cecilia dreads telling Western because she knows he is an insecure possessive man. We meet him shortly after he was jilted; he will now doubt her 'purity' (by which is meant her complete lack of any sexual contact with a man) if he knows she was previously engaged. Repeatedly Cecilia says she cannot tell Western because her previous engagement mirrors his; she fears that he will think she is mocking him; his 'man's pride' is fragile since his experience (pp. 28-32). In Kept in the Dark the Westerns are passionately in love; we are given many hints they are successful in bed -- and Cecilia is pregnant by Western before the novel closes (pp. 57-59, 198, 217-18). The man's distress comes from not knowing his wife was intimate with another man before she knew him; and by the suspicion that, since she did not tell him about it, she must or may still have something to hide (pp. 147-48). The story focuses on a transformation of companionable love to insane hatred when a man is led to suspect that his wife was not a virgin before he married her and that she has been sexually unfaithful since. We are made to experience how the security and tranquillity the husband knows before he is told of the wife's prior engagement, and the eruption of an agony within him when he is made to suspect her awes, terrifies and then degrades the wife.
Kept in the Dark differs from He Knew He Was Right because we dwell in the mind of the woman upon whom the man inflicts punishment in order to revenge himself. Only in the second part of the book when Western learns her secret, do we experience his anguish and wrath. The focus is on Cecilia's dread. In a scene in which Cecilia confesses to the Western's sister, Lady Grant, that she has not told Western of her previous engagement, Trollope explores the source of Cecilia and Lady Grant's anxiety over what Western will do when he finds out Cecilia was previously engaged. Lady Grant says that because, since Cecilia did not tell Western she was previously engaged, he has been led to enjoy a male's fantasy of total possession. They dread that disturbing him now will arouse his distrust since he will believe he was lied to earlier. Lady Grant insists that Cecilia will have to pay heavily for not telling since 'a man's desires' cannot be measured by a woman's, nor his emotional response to such 'deep wounds' to his 'honour' (Kept in the Dark, pp. 73-75).
It is worth stressing that both Cousin Henry and Kept in the Dark are as unrealistic as The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson or The Fixed Period, or, for that matter, The Warden. While in many of his novels Trollope uses a dilemma to explore the minds of his characters, in all of the long ones he presents explores normally hidden attitudes through nuances in complicated social scenes, dramatic confrontations and meditations. The complications allow the reader to ignore or explain away the unacceptable in terms which deflect the attention away from its source in the fundamental emotions. The short novels are unrealistic because everything in the novel is conceived in terms of the dilemma: they are simplifications of reality ...
In Linda Tressel (singled out by Henry James in a passionate and moving essay, and praised by Hutton as more powerful and important than Nina Balatka), Linda Tressel longs to become the wife of a sexually alluring and rebellious young man, Ludovic Valcarm. Trollope shows us how through the rhetoric of sacred religious prohibitions Linda's Aunt Staubach disguises from herself her desire to control her niece permanently and her hatred and fear of sexual pleasure. The aunt tries to force Linda to marry Peter Steinmarc, an old man whom the aunt herself rejected. For Steinmarc's ungainly body and narrow mind Linda feels nothing but distaste; when she rejects him, and he threatens her with hints of how he will be able to punish after marriage, she feels horror (Linda Tressel, pp. 269-71). The aunt repeatedly calls Linda a castaway, a reprobate, a light of love and a harlot; she is also cunning enough to catch and reinterpret every action of the girl as evil, and is capable of relentlessly, ceaselessly harassing her (pp. 249, 254, 263, 270, 278, 295, 297, 308, 320, 332). Linda does not know how to articulate and no one in the story appears to comprehend the terrible intimate sacrifice a marriage to Peter Steinmarc requires. Linda is defenceless. She is made to loathe herself; she cannot 'live without a word of sympathy from any human being' (p. 270). At the close of the novel, devastated, exhausted, Linda dies. This story can still awe a reader as the religious attitudes towards sex the aunt voices and the ability of human beings to disguise their worst and self-interested motives from themselves are by no means gone from us today.
Trollope said he wrote The Golden Lion of Granpère 'on the model of Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel', and thought it inferior to them and Sir Harry Hotspur.37 The Golden Lion lacks the tragic intensity of Sir Harry Hotspur. The hero of the latter is an older man who has just lost his only son, the heir to his property. Sir Harry longs to gratify the romantic dreams of Emily, the only child he has left, when Emily is attracted to Sir George Hotspur. Sir George is now Sir Harry's heir, and he would keep the property and family name together. But Sir Harry has been told George is self-seeking and mercenary. The novel tells the story of how Emily and her father slowly realise the young man is utterly without conscience or depth of feeling, while the father's vacillation in favour of George's title gives the young man time and opportunity to persuade the girl to love him. When, upon being offered an annuity and help in escaping prosecution for felony, Sir George deserts Emily, Emily's shock as a result of the whole experience leads to her death, and her death to the devastation of all Sir Harry's hopes for the future. Sir Harry is left 'a grey, worn-out, tottering old man, with large eyes full of sorrow, and a thin mouth that was seldom opened to utter a word' (Sir Harry Hotspur, p. 245).
Nonetheless, The Golden Lion is a remarkable book and rightly named: it has the sunlit charm of The Warden. Its relatively subdued tone comes from the simplicity of the French peasant culture as depicted by Trollope, the naïvete with which each character openly presents his or her motives and the old-world courtesy and tender affection with which the characters habitually treat one another. I can do no better than quote my posting to Trollope-l on it:
I just finished reading a short novel Trollope wrote just before he embarked on He Knew He Was Right. Its goals are to explore those elements in the depths of ordinary human nature which people hide because they are made to be ashamed of them and try to deny them; it differs from Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel because Trollope does not show us what happens when such elements in our nature are perverted or 'crushed'; instead we are led to celebrate our need for one another. It is a comforting book.
We find ourselves in the inn of Michel Voss, who is struck dumb, horrified, and hurt to discover his son, George, is in love with his niece, Marie Bromar. He can't believe it. He rejects this love as 'nonsense'; the two are children, and anyway they didn't ask his permission (The Golden Lion, pp. 15-16). Trollope makes it clear the uncle and niece have strong erotic ties: they are deeply affectionate; she has put her ego into his keeping, and cannot disobey him (p. 20). The son leaves for a nearby town to run another inn; he hopes to earn an income on which eventually to marry Marie. The uncle decides to marry Marie off to a genteel and sophisticated, richer, and in fact much more articulate and sensitive young man than George, Adrian Urmand. Alas, Marie is not attracted. Urmand is not 'manly enough'; he is a 'dandy' by which Marie means he's effete.
Under pressure Marie caves in, and agrees to be bethrothed to Urmand (pp. 62-63, 101-2). She has no reason to believe George even remembers her. She cannot buck her uncle. But then, like Linda, she experiences terrible anguish; she cannot bear to become the wife of a man whom she does not love. There are many dramatic narratives which describe the struggle between the uncle and his niece in which he says she must marry M. Urmand because he will look a fool before all the world if she doesn't; his pride is at stake; she begs to be left alone, but the uncle's brow goes 'black with anger' when she cries out 'Oh, the world -- the world, uncle! Why should we care for the world' (pp. 77, 82, 87-88). George hears of what's happening, the 'thing goes into his heart like a knife' (p. 119), and he rushes back. He speaks to Marie in ways that 'stab her to the heart', accuses his father of cruelty and tells M. Urmand 'She doesn't love you, and that's all there is to it; it is wrong to marry anyone who does not love you. It will make you most miserable of all' (pp. 142-51, 232-33).
What happens is we discover the uncle does love his son -- he just wants to remain master of the house. There is a wonderful passage where the uncle suddenly realises how odd it is he is doing all he to hurt and destroy the lives of people he acknowledges to himself are most dear to him (p. 225). He had earlier understood that his feeling that he is 'nearly as young a man as his son' was ground for identification with his son's desire for Marie (p. 63). Marie also shows some of Nina Balatka's spunk; she writes a poignant and frank letter to Urmand (p. 87). By now Urmand wants to break the engagement, but is egged on by the uncle. Gradually the uncle admits to himself he prefers to have his son around than Urmand, whom, like Marie, he dislikes as effeminate. Urmand begins to recall Cousin Henry in the short novel named after him; because he is diffident and sensitive everyone behaves contemptuously towards him. Michel has a second wife, an obtuse yet kindly woman who satisfies his peasant or ordinary needs very well; she sees no further than is good for her. It is she who helps to manage the breaking of the engagement at a picnic no one wants to go to, but is engineered to soothe the wounded ego of Urmand. In this way the world thinks he was not simply used and thrown away. I like the delicacy and sympathy with which Trollope entered Urmand's hurt pride too.
The book is concise, the words all general and simple. There is a lyrical rhythm to many passages which brings us into a speci al realm where externals are cut away so we can see clearly to the pattern underlying the action. Yet there is precision and sufficient details to keep the world of the book apparently realistic. The landscapes are Arcadian. Uncannily, Trollope captures the imaginative feel or essence of the inner and outward lives of Catholic and Protestant peasants in a village which borders Eastern France and Germany. At the time Richard Hutton commended the story for enabling the reader to see through the 'characteristic dress and gestures' by which people communicate important feelings they cannot put into words. As ever no one says what it is that lies under this dress; it is an Oedipal triangle. We also find that not what others say about us, but our inner nature gives us content in life.